Rail Trip Commemorates 50 Years of Turkish 'Guest Workers' in Germany

The first gastarbeiter (guest workers) from Turkey came to Munich from Istanbul in 1961. Some of them took part in the recent 50th anniversary trip celebrating the bilateral recruitment agreement—and looked back to often painful memories.

Sirkeci Station, Istanbul, Turkey (jwalsh)
Sirkeci Station, Istanbul, Turkey (jwalsh)
Roland Preuss and Björn Finke

MUNICH/ISTANBUL -- The guest workers end up having to wait: fitting symbolism for this particular chapter in the history of relations between Germany and Turkey. At just past noon, the 10-car train starts to move out of the station. Television cameras are covering the event live. The director general of TRT, the state-owned Turkish station, waves from the door. After Ibrahim Sahin has presented himself to viewers, the train stops, then rolls back into Istanbul's Sirkeci station. Only now can the real guest workers board: 34 Turkish workers who migrated to Germany between 40 and 50 years ago, and are now reliving that train journey to Munich.

The men and women climb into the cars without a murmur of complaint. If they're used to anything, it's waiting: for their next permit, for their next trip back home, for some recognition of all the work they've done. They're going to need some more of that patience on this trip. The train goes via Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Austria before reaching Munich. These men and women – now retired – are retracing the same route of the historic trains full of guest workers, when the journey took 50 hours and they had to sit on hard wooden seats. On arrival in Munich, the workers were dispatched to various parts of Germany. The arrival at Munich's main station this past Sunday was the symbolic highpoint of the celebration: 50 years to the day of the recruitment agreement signed between Germany and Turkey.

At the time, Ankara was glad to get poor, often dissatisfied citizens off its back and on to Germany. Those who left were overwhelmingly from the lowest classes. In Turkey, they were despised as "black Turks," only to be envied when some came back from Germany with their savings. Even so, they were still looked down on as proletarians. In Germany they were sought-after as workers. But there too, they faced resentment and prejudice. In Germany, just as they did in their home country, they formed part of the lowest classes. The men mostly worked on assembly lines. Most of the women worked as cleaners.

Marked by the view that people in both countries held of them, suddenly on this journey the workers found themselves the center of attention, in the company of cameramen and ministers. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag was among the VIPs on the journey along with Maria Böhmer, who is in charge of integration issues at the German Chancellery. It seemed a good opportunity for some of the workers to point out what they'd achieved – and what they suffered.

Hostility at home

Mehmet Ali Zaimoglu is one of them. He wanted to go to university, he said, but his family didn't have the money. As the 1950s rolled to an end in Istanbul, his prospects didn't look good. His mother and brother had died, and his father was pressuring him to marry a woman eight years his senior. "They forced me; I didn't even know the woman," says Zaimoglu. His life seemed pre-programmed, poverty included. There was just one way out: emigrating.

A half-century later he wanted all the politicians and the journalists to hear about his achievements, what he did for Germany. He started out, paid 2.20 marks an hour, as an electrician in Frankfurt. He then made his way modestly up the ranks at a large mail order firm called Neckermann. Now 73 years old, Zaimoglu experienced hostility when he returned home. That was 1964, when he drove back to Turkey in a minibus he'd bought in Germany. With the bus, he was able to earn money in Turkey taxiing people between cities. Rather than congratulate him for his relative success, people confronted him with "envy, sometimes even hate." So two years later he headed back to Germany. He admits he did not consult his wife in his decisions; in 1972, they were divorced.

Zaimoglu says he never wanted to be the typical guest worker, employed in a steel factory or on a construction site. He was a voracious reader – and finally ended up writing a book himself: "Wenn das fremde Land zur Heimat wird" (When a Foreign Country Becomes Home). Zaimoglu was no longer an electrician; he was an author.

The men and women on the trip are being celebrated in their role as guest workers, but it's not a role they want to play anymore, nor one they necessarily recall with fondness. A dressmaker from Berlin reacted with annoyance to the question of whether or not she had set off to Germany in 1964 for the money. She claimed that she and some of her girlfriends had come out of a sense of adventure, and that in any case the pay they received was nothing to write home about.

In Zagreb, there's a reception given by the Croatian railway; the Turkish VIPS are invited, but there's not enough room for most of the guest workers who get to wait outside in a bus. In the train, clearing space for the politicians, a couple of men in cheap suits manhandle two women workers as if they were extras on a film set. On Sunday, Zaimoglu is one of the workers who will get 30 seconds of time to address the group. Despite the way they are treated, the men and women are grateful – for being invited by the TV station and the hotel rooms paid for.

At the very end of the trip, in Munich's station, the former workers finally get their short moment of recognition. Two of them delivered some words, in the presence of the Turkish television boss and the politicos. This time it was Deputy Prime Minister Bozdag's turn to wait.

Read the original story in German

Photo - jwalsh

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]


Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.



• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.



Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.


The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️


€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.


Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️


"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.


Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

DO YOU FIND PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN ALL CAPS PARTICULARLY ANNOYING? Feel free to COMPLAIN, or otherwise let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!